Saturday, October 27

Beer In An Airport Bar

A HOLIDAYMAKER SAT in an airport bar. It was not yet noon and he was two-and-a-half drinks in. There were many airport bars; this particular one sold discount beer and was closest to where he had been when he decided, without deliberation, that he needed a drink. He was sat at the bar with a heavy-heart and all around him were other holidaymakers, whole families of them, eating full English breakfasts and chatting gaily. The bar itself was badly chipped; the varnish was thin and the wood soft, damaged, married with rings. The bar opened on to the concourse where people went here and there. All around was a great noise of excitement. Announcements were read aloud, interrupting quiet pop music. The beer did not taste very good but he drank it all the same.
A man approached the bar and stated loudly his order – ‘Suzie, what do you want … what do the kids want … well, ask her … I ain’t got all day.’
Kids guarded their brightly coloured miniature suitcases and sung songs. Mothers minded them. The fathers patted their gut, checked passports and worked out tips for the waiters.
The holidaymaker, no more than twenty-five and without stubble, swallowed the last of his beer, which had warmed and lost its fizz. His plane left at a certain time, he had to meet his family just before that, and, at the moment, he was sat alone in a bar. Bottled liquor stood behind the barman like baubles on a Christmas tree; there were crisps, too, nuts, the sour smell of beer stains.
The children sung their songs.
He ordered another drink and counted out English money. The waiter thanked him with a smile and let him be.
The holidaymaker was coming to terms with something in silence.
‘Excuse me, mate, is this seat taken?’
‘No; have it.’
‘Cheers.’
A few hours previous he had discovered his brother smoking a cigarette underneath the porch, out of the rain. He immediately ran to his mother, who was piecing together a peanut butter sandwich – ‘George’s smoking now?’ He paced around, stopping at times to check his mother was listening.
Not turning around, she sighed disappointedly – ‘Yes.’
‘And he—’
‘Look, stop. We talked to him.’
In a fit, the holidaymaker went and took another look at his brother who, having been spotted, frowned and lowered his eyes as he blew some smoke away. The smoke bubbled up into the rain. The edges of the porch were wet.
Fetching his coat and muttering something unintelligible, he went for a walk. The rain did not fall heavily but just so that it made a peaceful hissing sound. He pulled his collar up and put his head down. He did not know where he was walking to. In his back pocket was a pack of cigarettes, he took one out and lit it and thought to himself. The houses in the cold October morning were sleeping, slumberous or waking up; kitchen lights on, kettles boiling, windows shut against the draughts. It was a Saturday morning. He made his way along the main road then branched off into a quiet street lined by individual and affluent houses. They minded their own business.
As a smoker he left his cigarettes on a bookshelf near the backdoor, where he passed on his way to the garden. Eleven months ago he started to notice cigarettes going missing. He was mindful of the number of cigarettes in a pack because they were very expensive and he was not paid much. Thinking it was his other brother – with whom he often shared cigarettes – he dwelled on the matter only briefly before forgetting it completely. He never asked his other brother because cigarettes were only cigarettes.
‘Another Kronenbourg, please.’
‘No worries, mate.’
‘Cheers.’
The beer was set in front of him. No sooner had it been placed than condensation began to form on the glass.
Cigarettes disappeared regularly – every other weekend or so – and he thought nothing of it. One Sunday, robbed of cigarettes he was looking forward to, he flew into a rage and stormed around the house looking for his other brother – ‘Have you taken my fuckin’ cigarettes? I needed those!’
His brother was lying on his belly, watching the television – ‘Fuck off, it wasn’t me!’
A most bizarre discovery! In an instant he thought of his youngest brother, George, who was not yet able, by law, to smoke. He rushed into his room, full of purpose – ‘Have you been stealing my cigarettes?’
George was playing a video game – ‘Yes,’ and most sheepish, too.
The holidaymaker made fists and was flushed with warmth – ‘Why?’
‘Because they’re bad for you.’
When all the other family members had learned about the Great Tobacco Thief they simply shrugged and blessed him for being so considerate, though admitting it was wrong to steal.
The holidaymaker perked up his ears, thinking his flight was called, but it the destination only sounded like his own.
‘How can you be so fucking stupid?’ he said incredulously – ‘He’s smoking them himself!’
‘Don’t be ridiculous!’
‘I am not smoking them!’
‘He’s looking out for you … George, don’t steal your brothers cigarettes. They’re expensive and he’s not paid much.’
‘I don’t believe this.’
The wind forced the rain onto his cheeks. He walked on, past the individual and affluent houses, cursing George. In these flights of anger his blood seemed to heat up and rush to his face. The wind and the rain were cooling. In the grey rain and the cold, the trees, the brightly painted houses, the stunted roadside grass, appeared drab. Puddles collected crisply in pavement dimples. Still he walked. His pace was quick and the wind threw his hair about. He ducked his head further into his collar and crossed the avenue. On either side the avenue ran, bordered with trees that linked fingers in the centre and the rain banged their leaves.
No one believed him when he had pointed the finger and now look! his brother was a smoker all along! George was a smoker!
The holidaymaker lifted his head and stared at the sky. It was a perfect October sky; its light not quite erect; damaged by the crossfade of seasons; a hundred clots of cloud shadow to break up a sheet of overhanging and ghastly white. He walked for almost two miles. Neither a route or distance was on his mind. He just walked. Soon he found himself back outside his house. The walk had tempered his anger, which had been furious, so that now he was wet all over his cheeks and on his hair.
He had been right all along.
The car journey had been difficult, to the airport. He said not a word and just soaked up the last of his country’s landscape before the flight. The last cigarette for hours – savoured distant from his two brothers, next to two obese women in tracksuits discussing fast food breakfasts. It was still early.
Then he was drinking, forgoing a full breakfast that would see him on his way. He had been right and everyone else had been fooled. He was not attracted by the look of the bar but beer was beer when you’re in an airport. He took a seat. Very soon he wanted to scratch his name into the soft wood. He recalled his school days when names and girlfriends and lyrics had been carved into the physics’ desk. He had never raised his pen then but now he possessed an urge, almost overwhelming.
With an inch-and-three-quarters left, he heard his flight called. He downed it. There would be a toilet near the gate.

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